Serj Tankian Performs in London

On the first autumn Sunday of Spring, Shepherd’s Bush was treated to the vocal magnificence of the world renowned musician and political activist, Serj Tankian. In support of his third solo album, Harakiri (translated as ‘ritual suicide’ in Japanese) Serj embarked on the European leg of his world tour; starting in our own back garden at the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, along with his support band, the FCC, and VIZA – probably the best up-and-coming band that has yet to make it big.

Witnessing Serj during the sound check, I knew that London was about to witness a legend perform. Like wine, Tankian’s vocal capabilities have only evolved with time; demonstrating a vocal range encompassing growls from his early System of a Down days to a brilliant command of a quirky pitch range. Nonetheless, his voice cannot be justly described and certainly cannot be matched. With hundreds of fans queuing outside the venue long before the concert, his impact on our generation was evident.

The O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire was evidently filled to its capacity. It was refreshing to see such a wide range of people there supporting Serj’s music; from teens to a seventy year old woman, the inclusiveness of Serj’s work was demonstrated perfectly. With a short set by the The Hollywood Arson Project warming up the crowd, VIZA blasted their way into the hearts of the gathered masses. They are a truly unique band with folky origins, oud and tabla players; and a mix of Armenian, Greek and Spanish heritage. Playing songs from their albums ‘Made in Chernobyl’ and ‘Carnivalia’, their forty-minute set certainly won me over as a fan, and I am certain hundreds of others felt the same – one could only stare in awe by their energy which was perfectly epitomised by Chris Daniel, their tabla player and supporting vocalist, who did not rest during the frenzy. An excellent performance of their song ‘The Uzbek Brothel’ closed their set and their job was complete; London was bouncing and already sweating, panting and setting the scene for the one and only Serj Tankian.

Soon after, the guitar intro to ‘Figure It Out’ (the first single from Harakiri) was briefly heard; it was drowned out by the sheer noise the crowd made – ensuring that this was definitely a gig to remember. Playing songs from his 2007 and 2012 solo records ‘Elect the Dead’ and ‘Harakiri’, the crowd did not stop going crazy both during and after his eighteen song set. Serj’s charisma and talent as an amazingly deep songwriter was reflected by the fact that every single person knew every single word of nearly every single song – that is not an exaggeration. The intimate atmosphere and dedication of the fans clearly touched Serj, who in return delivered a flawless and excellent performance. His performance was littered with small speeches on the exploitation of the planet and the resulting mass death of millions of species of plants and animals; dubbed as ‘Harakiri’ by Tankian. There were melodic interludes between songs and passages from Serj. The night was capped off by an encore of the famous and epic System of a Down song ‘Aerials’, which personally made the night feel even more special.

Meeting my idol proved to be a humbling experience. Of course, I am only seventeen years of age, yet that early October day was the culmination of years spent listening to his music. Both solo and with System of a Down, the music has personally provided me with inspiration; with its unique technicality it is not hard to comprehend the vastness of the fan base, which is easily in the millions. However, I was also humbled by meeting such an avid political activist; someone who has contributed so much for the Armenian cause. As an Armenian Youth Federation member from a young age, his work – which includes the Screamers documentary, the SOULS benefit concert, and participation in vigils and marches – must not be overlooked because of his status as a rock god.

— Emin Moskofian

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